On April 5, USDA Rural Development in Ohio hosted the first in a series of ‘Flexible Fuels Roadshows’ aimed at broadening awareness of Secretary Vilsack’s recently announced objective of deploying 10,000 flexible fuel blender pumps into the nation’s motor fuel delivery system by 2015. The Secretary’s flex- fuel initiative will become a major focus of Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) during the upcoming funding cycle. For the first time, gas station and convenience store operators across the country can qualify for a package of REAP grants and loans to support the purchase and installation of flex-fuel blender pumps and related infrastructure.
As gas prices approach $4.00/ gallon, President Obama has established a goal of reducing imports of foreign fuel. For this objective to succeed, the president has called upon USDA to provide leadership in two critical areas: first, to scale-up a viable national biofuels refining industry focusing on traditional crops, as well as non- food cellulosic feedstocks and dedicated energy crops like switch grass, miscanthus and algae; and second, by incentivizing the establishment of fueling stations where these high-energy, clean- burning biofuels can be purchased by the motoring public. Flexible fuel pumps provide a ready solution to this challenge.
Over three dozen Ohio gas station owners, biofuel refiners, state regulators, farmers and students gathered at The Ohio State University’s Center for Automotive Research (CAR) for the USDA briefing. Subjects covered included a resume of the economic benefits of a biofuel economy on rural Americans, regulatory challenges and opportunities for blender pump installation, and a detailed analysis of the “payback” for gas station owners who wish to give their customers the choice to purchase clean- burning, locally produced biofuels.
Curt Wiley, Chief of Staff, USDA Business and Cooperative Programs said, “Building partnerships with stakeholders in Ohio to expand flexible fuel pumps is the key to success. Biofuel industry groups, grain and biomass associations, agriculture groups, state agencies, and clean cities coalitions all need to come together to make blender pumps more readably available in Ohio.”
Ohio Rural Development State Director, Tony Logan, pointed to the leadership of the Navy and the Air Force as emblematic of the inevitable success of biofuels in our economy. The US Air Force has announced a goal of converting 50 percent of their domestic aviation fuel usage to biofuels by 2016, and last week the Navy completed a test flight of its F-22 Raptor, which flew to Mach I fueled by a camellia-based biofuel.
“The military are early adaptors and enthusiastic supporters of biofuel because they know that our dependency on imported oil is a critical national security problem—a problem that can be fixed with the scaling up of a national biofuel industry,” said Logan. “And with gas prices approaching $4.00 /gallon, motorists around the country are now looking for a home-grown, clean- burning choice at the gas pump.”
Prior to the briefing, students at OSU’s CAR guided participants on a tour of CAR’s research facility which boasts the “Buckeye Bullet”—an electric car which holds the land speed record for electric vehicles of 303 MPH and the “EcoCar” a student-designed extended range electric vehicle that uses an E-85 ethanol engine to recharge a hybrid battery pack.